BOSTON – Inside a Statehouse hearing room Tuesday, Neil Andersen could only try to explain how a wind turbine affected the past four years of his life in Falmouth.
He spoke of the restless nights, the humming and the headaches, the bad memories and memory loss.
And so they could experience this themselves, Andersen invited legislators to sit down on his front porch on Blacksmith Shop Road.
“Maybe one of you will get a headache, start feeling the pressure in your ears, because it’s real,” he said. “Please come on down.”
Andersen was among several Massachusetts residents living near turbines – a few of them also from Falmouth – to take their fight against wind energy to a Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy hearing, where their longstanding battle with environmentalists continued.
The debate centered largely on legislation aimed at expediting the permitting process for land-based turbine projects.
George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, said the state needs a standard that protects residents and also allows renewable wind energy to grow. Three years after the proposed reform passed through the House but stalled in the Senate, Bachrach said it was not the bill’s merits but political will that remained in question.
“Wind energy is the future,” he said.
Gov. Deval Patrick, a strong advocate for the proposed Nantucket Sound wind farm, supported the Wind Energy Siting Reform Act for onshore projects when it failed to reach his desk in 2010. No one from his administration testified in favor of the legislation Tuesday.
Among other steps, the bill would fast-track turbine permits by consolidating various local boards into a single panel made up of representatives from a town’s conservation commission, planning board and zoning board of appeals. The result, said state Rep. Frank Smizik, D-Brookline, would be “one-stop permitting at the local level.”
Smizik said the bill’s siting criteria would take into consideration a turbine’s proximity to residences and noise, along with its effect on public safety and the environment, adding that it would not take away local control.
But state Rep. Timothy Madden, D-Nantucket, said a “great deal” of local control would be lost. With his own bill, Madden hoped to expand local control for coastal communities by allowing them to designate exclusion zones for wind turbine development up to 3 miles offshore.
Waters beyond 3 miles fall within federal jurisdiction, he said.
“I think clearly in Aquinnah there was the issue of where the Wampanoag worship,” Madden said, thinking of the waters off Martha’s Vineyard’s southwest tip as an area the island might seek to exclude. “Their feeling was that those were sacred grounds.”
On Nantucket, Madden said he has heard residents raise health concerns similar to those raised Tuesday by Andersen and other Falmouth residents. State Rep. David Vieira, R-Falmouth, testified Tuesday in support of his proposal to create a Wind Energy Relief Fund that would receive $15 million each year from the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust Fund to compensate individuals, businesses and municipalities harmed by wind turbines.
The bill specifies relocation costs for residents and businesses as possible reimbursements, but otherwise directs the state Department of Public Utilities and Massachusetts Clean Energy Center to draw up the specific regulations.
Another $7.5 million would be directed each year into a Wind Turbine Decommissioning or Relocation Fund, which Vieira compared to the escrow accounts required for the two privately operated turbines in Falmouth.
In his testimony, Vieira called attention to a Barnstable Superior Court judge’s recent order to limit the operation of Falmouth’s two wind turbines. Judge Christopher J. Muse handed down the ruling after the town sued its own Zoning Board of Appeals over a determination that the turbines pose a nuisance to nearby residents.
Now, with operations prohibited on Sundays and holidays through the end of the year, Vieira said the town is operating the turbines at a loss.
“We cannot afford to pay the bills for those turbines under that court order. And with a mitigation fund like this, we could seek some remedy as we look for a long term solution,” Vieira said.
After hearing Vieira’s proposal, Andersen saw dollar signs not just for himself but also for his Upper Cape town.
“I tell you what, I could use some of that money,” he told lawmakers. “The town of Falmouth could use some of that money.”
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